Citizens near and far are committed to small business investment – from the Lokerville Lookouts to the City of Framingham to the entire MetroWest region. Personal character and the unique, memorable experiences provided by small businesses are increasingly needed in our highly digitized, often impersonal world. The evolution of commercial spaces from purely transactional retail centers to multi-functional, human-centric spaces has truly taken hold in downtown Framingham. Downtown Framingham, Inc. has portrayed the first of many snapshots highlighting local businesses reaping success downtown.
According to the Small Business Administration, 28 million small businesses in America account for 55 percent of all jobs and 66 percent of all new jobs since the 1970s. Further research from the firm Civic Economics found that 48 percent of purchases at local independent businesses go right back into the community, and your tax dollars support more local services, schools, and libraries.
PUBLIC OPINION IS THE ULTIMATE TEST
The Lokerville Lookouts, comprised of residents in the area surrounding Butterworth Park in the Lokerville neighborhood, recently named their favorite downtown businesses through an engagement survey by Downtown Framingham, Inc. Jack’s Abby, Pho Dakao, Sofa Café, Panza Shoes, and Depot 417 were the top five choices, underscoring the importance of places where friends, family, and even strangers can gather for entertainment and delicious food.
Throughout Framingham and the MetroWest, readers voted for their favorite local businesses in a variety of categories presented by the Wicked Local 2018 Reader’s Choice Awards. Many downtown businesses were recognized as the best in Framingham and the best in the region. Businesses that have churned through several decades were awarded, including downtown’s Panza Shoes, La Cantina Italiana, Waverly Market, Monnick Supply, Ron’s Tire and Service, Framingham Baking Co., and Creative Carpet Flooring, among others. Relatively newer businesses excelled as well, including Jack’s Abby, Pho Dakao, and Foodie Café.
Downtown winners of the 2018 Wicked Local Reader's Choice Awards along with DFI Business Members.
A SIZZLING STREETSCAPE DRIVES BUSINESS GROWTH
Tiago Prado, President of BRZ Insurance at 107 Concord Street, has enjoyed a stellar first year of business after holding the ribbon-cutting in August 2017. BRZ Insurance was founded by three successful millennial entrepreneurs who designed the Framingham location to highlight inviting spaces where you can review your insurance, recharge your devices, or connect with people.
“My partners and I invested heavily into the business, as you can see by both the exterior and interior design. We know how vital it is to have a commercial space that is inviting for pedestrians in downtown Framingham. Our ability to wisely invest and hire truly hungry associates has doubled our projected business volume for our first year. I am truly excited to operate in downtown Framingham during this very active time in our City,” shared Prado.
BRZ’s façade inspired more major façade improvements downtown, as witnessed by Sweet Home Furniture, which recently opened down the block at 145 Concord Street. The project at Sweet Home Furniture to completely overhaul both interior and exterior spaces took nearly nine months but further enhanced the streetscape for both pedestrians and drivers.
A MILLENIAL ON THE UPWARD TRACK
Family owned and operated, Motion & Energy, Inc. manages the NAPA Auto and Truck Parts at 113 Irving Street, a center for retail and wholesale parts in Framingham’s historic Irving Square. President and millennial Andrew Lemieux is now forging ahead with his second business, NAPA Heavy Duty Parts, which opened in June 2018 as an expansion of the first NAPA Auto Parts store at 113 Irving Street.
“After moving to Irving Square from Natick in 2014, we have experienced incredible growth,” explained Lemieux. “The location in downtown Framingham is ideal for my business, as we’re right in the heart of the City’s center.”
While inventory value has grown from $160,000 in 2014 to $1.3 million in 2018, overall wealth has jumped from $800,000 in 2014 to $3.6 million in 2018.
“Our growth is based on strong community relationships, as we’ve worked closely with the City of Framingham’s Department of Public Works, Framingham State University, MetroWest Regional Transit Authority, Massachusetts State Police, and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency,” shared Lemieux.
Lemieux commended the new City on helping Motion & Energy, Inc. to achieve its business goals. “The improved entrepreneurial spirit streamlined the opening of NAPA Heavy Duty, the first retail heavy duty parts store and classroom in New England. The City also kindly approved our request to sell mini-Jeeps without a license,” said Lemieux.
With more than 20 mini-Jeeps sold this year, Lemieux, who also owns the property at 113 Irving Street, is looking to expand into more markets in other states and participate in more co-branding opportunities.
PRODUCE, PRODUCE EVERYWHERE
Diego Restrepo owns and operates Tesoro Supermarket at 80 Hollis Street, which has achieved business success over the past twelve years in downtown Framingham. As the new building owner and store operator, he is heavily invested in sharing healthy food with the nearby community from his walkable location at the intersection of Hollis and Gordon Streets.
“Since taking over a couple months ago, I’ve witnessed huge growth. For instance, meat sales are up 100 percent, produce sales are up 40 percent, and overall grocery sales are up 25 percent over the past two months. I’m excited to continue investing in this business,” shared Restrepo.
With over 10,000 product choices, Restrepo is ensuring his community is afforded the necessary opportunities to attain healthy food . “We have more variety than Market Basket, and we’re really working on improved store design. We’re aiming to have a brand new floor installed by August, too,” Restrepo said.
This month, Tesoro Supermarket is giving away a free 2 liter bottle of Guarana Antartica with each purchase of $20.00 or more. In celebration of the World Cup, patrons can enter a chance to win a new 55-inch TV. Stop by the store to enter your name in the drawing!
TEAMING UP FOR CHANGE, SUSTAINING TAILORED SERVICE
Business owner Richard Panza had grown weary of the on-street parking spaces being filled with cars that parked for eight-hour durations in front of his shoe store at 48 Union Avenue. He desperately needed parking openings for his customers, so he worked with the Framingham Downtown Renaissance (now Downtown Framingham, Inc.) to have a petition signed by other local businesses in May 2017. Support was ushered in from other small business owners to limit the duration a vehicle could be parked on the street in the Central Business District along Union Avenue, Concord Street, and Hollis Street. Richard attended evening meetings with Framingham’s Traffic Roadway and Safety Commission and Board of Selectmen, all who quickly agreed that on-street parking should be kept to a two-hour parking limit in the Framingham’s urban core. A few days after the Board of Selectmen’s approval, the two-hour parking signs were installed to vehicle turnover increased, enabling more customers better access to the great shops in downtown Framingham.
A 70-year staple of downtown Framingham, Panza Shoes is a unique, full-service shoe store. They want customers with “hard-to-fit” feet to visit them first, skipping inefficient, frustrating trials at other self-service shoe stores. The entire staff at Panza Shoes breathes customer service and works hard to develop close personal relationships with each patron that steps through their doorway.
“A lot of people are out there wearing the wrong size shoe and they don’t know what their problem is. It’s the same as an optician: you’ve got to be sized up for glasses and it’s the same thing with shoes,” shared Richard Panza, a military Veteran and son of the original owner Charles Panza.
EXPERIENCING FAST GROWTH AFTER RELOCATING TO DOWNTOWN
In the summer of 2017, Cristina’s Events and Party Decoration relocated to downtown Framingham from the Mill Street Plaza on Route 135. Owner Cristina Pego redesigned the former beauty store at 62 Hollis Street into a bright, eye-catching display of beautiful event furnishings. Her dedication to storefront design has created intrigue for passersby, causing them to stop and peer into her imaginative event space.
Cristina is excited to continue this growth trend and is collaborating closely with Bobby Mitchell, a DFI intern who is providing free business consultations to shop keepers throughout Framingham’s urban core.
MULTI-FUNCTIONAL SPACES FORGE COMMUNITY AND BUSINESS CONNECTIONS
Inside 100 Concord Street Suite 1C, customers are welcomed by expansive leather couches and a magnificent flat screen TV. Aside from providing these main ingredients for a good party, the team at Loja Do Cable Xfinity by Comcast Framingham serves area residents as the go-to digital solutions hub. Recently, they took advantage of the FIFA World Cup games by hosting fun, inclusive watch parties.
“We used our business space to create a relaxed atmosphere where local community members could really connect and get to know other government officials and nearby business owners who stopped in to watch the games. Our platform helped build a special trust between people that might not regularly get a relaxed opportunity to form a genuine relationship,” shared business partner Priscila Sousa.
“And because we don’t serve food ourselves, we encouraged everyone to sample foods of different downtown establishments. This was a great way to encourage our customers to patronize other local businesses and then share foods of different cultures with those who attended our watch parties,” said Sousa.
By transforming a digital service store into a lively spot for cheering on FIFA World Cup teams, attendees were treated to a truly memorable, sensory experience in Framingham’s walkable urban core.
- DFI Intern Bobby Mitchell and Director Courtney Thraen contributed to this report